South Sioux City to become “demonstration site” for stored electrical power


Julia Shanahan | June 7th, 2019

South Sioux City, located in northeast Nebraska, will become a “demonstration site” this winter for the storage of electric power generated by the city’s 1,200 solar panels.

A large battery, described as a “semi trailer without wheels”, will be able to store 1.5 megawatts of power and cost about $1.8 million, according to a report from the Iowa-based Sioux City Journal. This project is a big step in the field of renewable energy because power would be able to be stored for days with less wind or sunlight.

The report also said that solar energy makes up roughly 5 percent of the city’s electricity usage, and that South Sioux City now gets about half of its electricity from renewable sources, like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. In Iowa, about 2 percent of renewable energy comes from a source other than wind.

The city hopes to continue taking steps to lessen its dependence on the Nebraska Public Power District, and eventually fully phase out of their contract.

As South Sioux City takes steps toward utilizing sustainable energy, Iowa remains a leading state in the field of renewable energy.

In 2018, Iowa’s 3,400 wind turbines produced 34 percent of the state’s electricity – the second highest share for any state, according to the U.S. Energy Information System. Additionally, among the top five energy-consuming states, Iowa was the only non-crude oil-producing state on a per-capita basis in 2018.

Iowa also remains the largest producer of ethanol in the U.S., producing one-fourthof the country’s ethanol production capacity.

Why is Iowa experiencing record flooding this year?


Extreme weather has pummered the Midwest for weeks| Photo by Jo Naylor on Flickr.

Sthefany Nóbriga | June 6th, 2019

The ongoing flooding tormenting the Midwest and nearby states, has its origins in a series of unusual and recording setting weather events impacting Iowa and the Midwest.

University of Iowa assistant research engineer, Antonio Arenas with the help of his colleagues at IIHR Hydroscience & Engineering and the Iowa Flood Center created an easy to use digital timeline that describes extreme weather events that have occurred in the Midwest over the last year and their impact on Iowa. 

The timeline starts with the months of June and July 2018 as being months with above-average rainfall. Arena also documents record Iowa rainfall in the fall of 2018, as well as the heavy snowfall in the Midwest this past winter and how it all has contributed to record flooding in Iowa this spring.

Antonio Arenas states that these weather events are noteworthy and for some, are record setting. However, he also believes it is equally important to note that all of these weather fluctuations had all occurred within a 12-month window. 

The digital timeline offers information on the past 12 months of extreme weather events such as the Polar Vortex, extreme precipitation, a rare bomb cyclone, ice dams, heavy snowfall, frozen ground, and more.

Arena invites people to click through the animated slides, videos, maps, satellite images, and brief descriptions to see how these recent extreme weather events have impacted Iowa and the Midwest.

The University of Iowa launches a program for environmental researchers


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The Office of Sustainability is attempting to help U of I become an environmental research hub | Photos by Lily

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 5th, 2019

The University of Iowa may one day become a center for researchers across the nation to gather and study climate change.

Iowa City is already known for its extensive flood prevention research, as two University of Iowa faculty members–Larry Weber and Witold Krajewski–co-founded the Iowa Flood Center after 2008’s devastating flood. Now, the University wants to expand its research program and become a center for environmental studies nationwide.

The University of Iowa Office of Sustainability and the Environment recently started a database to help them gather names of different scientists and their respective research areas across the U.S., with the intention of creating a center of resources and funding for said scientists to gather and work together on various environmental issues. A program set to be launched in fall will grant about 15 of these scientists funding to join the environmental program at the University.

The office was granted around $300,000 earlier this year to fund research projects like this. While the first year of the program will be relatively small, the Office of Sustainability hopes to expand their reach and fund many more environmental scientists in the future–potentially up to 70 new recipients every year.

This new program will help the University solidify its status as a prime hub for environmental research and studies.

How environmental fluctuations affect our food


agriculture arable barley blur
Changing weather patterns have greatly impacted our core crops | Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 4th, 2019

Ongoing climate change could drastically alter our relationship with food.

We often imagine our crops and sources of food being struck down by an intense weather event–a drought, a heatwave, an endless spell of rain. But small changes can affect our ecosystem and our crop yeild. In 2016, French wheat farmers were stunned at how much their crop yeild had decreased–all resulting from a few seemingly small seasonal changes in the weather.

Even incrementally warmer temperatures increase the lives of pests that damage and kill crops. Rain leeches soil of its nutrients. Fluctuations in weather patterns have a bigger impact on our food than we would often like to think. Rising levels of carbon dioxide also affect plants, as most staple crops don’t grow well in CO2-rich environments.

Senthold Asseng, a researcher at the University of Florida, used data and modeling to determine the effect that temperature has on crops worldwide. Wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans are the top four staple crops, feeding billions accross every nation. A global temperature increase of just 1 degree Celsius impacts all of these core foods, reducing the crop yields of wheat and corn by 6 to 8% and rice and soybean yields by roughly 3%. For a richer nation, these numbers mean little; for poorer areas, decreases like this could lead to extreme food shortages or famine.

Ongoing research into crops and agriculture and how these two link to climate change will help us find alternatives and solutions to continue feeding our nation.

 

Another round of flooding impacting southwest Iowa


Flooding in the Southwest Iowa affect residents and highways|Photo by Marion Patterson on Flickr

Sthefany Nóbriga | May 30th, 2019

People in Southwest Iowa suffered record-breaking flooding in mid-March thanks to the spring extreme rainfall and rapid snowmelt. Now, a second round of flooding is on the horizon, threatening those previously affected.

 The saturation of the soil, a large amount of rain and the river flow are once again causing road and highway closures, county evacuations and major floods warnings around the southwest part of the state. 

According to the National Weather Service, the Missouri River in Nebraska City measured approximately 22.5 feet, and it soon could reach critical stages of flooding. The Missouri River in Plattsmouth, Neb., was at 31.3 feet, and could soon reach the moderate flooding stage.

As rain continues to fall, residents from Mills County, Iowa, near the Missouri River, have been advised to evacuate the area for their own safety. In the meantime, almost 300 people have been under obligatory evacuation in the western portion of Fremont County.

The main concern of officials is not only the record-breaking rains and the rising river levels, but they are also concerned that the floods from early March, left the county with no protection against flooding, according to Iowa Public Radio.

These heavy rains have caused significant damage to the roads and interstates, the interstate highway 29 in Iowa and Missouri have closed for the second time due to the flooding; the first time was the flooding from early March, and now the road closes again after only two weeks of being repaired. Portions of highway 34 and highway 2 have also closed due to flooding. 

The traveler Information encourages divers to check 511ia.org or call 800-288-1047 if they have any questions before traveling through the Midwest. 

Experts advise people to stay cautious, and if they see roads with water over them, it’s best to turn around and find an alternate route, since it is impossible to guess how deep the water in the road could possibly be.

The environmental damage of balloons


white and red plastic heart balloon on sky during daytime
Balloon releases are a traditional part of many public events, but the environmental harm outweighs the spectacle | Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 29th, 2019

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is home to one of the largest and oldest major races in the world, the Indianapolis 500. Held annually, this event brings in multiple streams of revenue for Indiana, but some of the traditions practiced at the race may be negatively impacting the environment.

Specifically, some controversy surrounds the balloon release: on the morning of the race, thousands of balloons float into the air in a tradition stretching back decades.

Balloons have a strong presence in human history. The first rubber balloons were invented in the early 1800s for hydrogen experiments; latex and mylar varieties came about later, and balloons slowly made their way into the public consciousness. A 2017 study published for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that roughly 30% of the public participated in events with balloon releases.

Released balloons eventually float back down after their helium leaks away. Often, these colorful orbs are snagged on branches and power lines, causing potential blackouts and electrical issues. The same NOAA study noted that thousands of balloon pieces wash up onshore every year. Brightly-colored latex is likely to appear edible to confused animals, who often try to eat the strings and scraps that fall into their environment.

The Indianapolis 500 is not the only public event prone to scrutiny over its decision to release balloons. In 1986, United Way in Cleveland, Ohio attempted to break the world record for the largest balloon release–one previously set by Disneyland. United Way released an estimated 1.5 million balloons into the air, causing a chain of reactions that interfered with a Coast Guard rescue mission and ending, ultimately, in a lawsuit.

Traditions will always be difficult to break, but many activist groups have been lobbying to ban balloons altogether for years now. Though some inconclusive studies are being conducted to determine how biodegradable latex really is, reducing latex and plastic pollution wherever possible is a key way to help our environment.

Noise pollution: a lesser-known hazard


architectural photography of city buildings
Noise pollution can cause a myriad of health issues | Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 28th, 2019

When we think of pollutants, we’re inclined to list off things like plastic, coal, and carbon before we even get to noise. But noise pollution is a problem–so much so that LA has launched a soundproofing program, one that, controversially, has left out some poorer neighborhoods.

Hearing loss is one of the most common occupational hazards. A significant portion of US workers are affected by some form of hearing loss, and a smaller portion suffers from tinnitus (a consistent ringing in the ears).

Outside of the workplace, the average citizen is likely to encounter large amounts of noise from traffic. The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) reports that traffic density is a huge factor in the levels of noise pollution country to country, with South Korea being one of the most polluted places in this regard.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of noise pollution contributes to higher levels of stress hormones, which in turn cause multiple health complications.

Soundproofing programs, quieter cars, and better workplace safety measures can help reduce the overall effects of noise pollution.